Bicycles with engines attached and those with electrically assisted motors which do not cut out at 25km/h are classed as low-powered motorcycles and need to follow relevant legal requirements, gardai have said.
The legal requirements include that the rider must be over the age of 16, and have a valid driving licence, third party insurance, a helmet, a motor tax certificate and a licence plate.
The Garda press office issued the force’s view to IrishCycle.com earlier this year and we are publishing it now after a court case last week at Naas District Court in which a man was using a “bicycle” with a 48cc petrol engine attached to it and was convicted drink driving.
Cycling is considered a type of “driving” in legal terms, but while drink driving can also apply to people in charge of a bicycle, it is understood the accused man was simply convicted of drink driving.
Because of the 48cc petrol engine on the bike, it was classed as a ‘mechanically propelled vehicle’, the legal definition for most vehicles with a motor. The man’s solicitor said that his client did not think it was mechanically propelled vehicle but that he now accepts that it is.
Some media outlets have reported that the judge in case said it was his view that electric bicycles are also covered as mechanically propelled vehicles, but the Leinster Leader reported this as more of an issue of a debate between Judge Desmond Zaidan, the garda inspector and the defence solicitor. The judge said that the State should be asked to come forward with greater clarity on the matter.
Earlier this year, Sergeant Alan Frawley of the Garda press office, said the key issue was if bicycles continued to move without pedalling.
Most electric bicycles on sale in Ireland are classed as “electrically assisted bicycle” because they need the user to keep pedalling for the bike to keep moving — the electric motor only acts as a boost to pedalling and the bicycle will slow down and stop after pedalling stops.
Sergeant Frawley said: “The key to whether or not a vehicle is a mechanically propelled vehicle for the purposes of the Road Traffic Act 1961 lies with its means of propulsion. Each vehicle has to be looked at on its own merits. Thus if a vehicle is or can be propelled other than manually, it is a mechanically propelled vehicle for the purposes of the 1961 Act. E.g. a motor bike is propelled by a petrol engine not by pedalling; or a motorised scooter as it can be totally propelled by its engine.”
“If a vehicle has a source of power which only aids a vehicle’s manual propulsion and cannot propel the vehicle on its own, then the vehicle is not an mpv for the purposes of the 1961 Act. Into this category would fall an electrically-assisted bicycle. This is because the vehicle stops when the pedalling stops,” said Sergeant Frawley.
He added: “In relation to the electric units, electrically assisted pedal cycles are commonly referred to as ‘pedelecs’ to describe bicycles with electric motors or batteries too small to drive them without pedalling. Their speed is limited to 25km per hour and the motor cuts out if pedalling ceases. In contrast, mopeds can move without assistance of pedals. For guidance, if an electric bike can be operated without pedalling, it is a moped, ie a low-powered motorcycle and is subject to motor tax.”
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In 2002, The Irish Times reported that the Department of Environment “declared that electrically-assisted bicycles were not liable for motor tax following a review of the status of the machines within the terms of Ireland’s road traffic laws.”
A department spokesman is quoted as stating: “This is because the electric power of a ‘pedelec’ only assists the pedalling effort and is not a source of propulsion in its own right. On this basis, pedelecs are not subject to the legal requirements relating to compulsory insurance and road tax.”
It is unclear to IrishCycle.com where or if the top speed of an electric bicycle is outlined in the Road Traffic Acts. It is defined in the Finance Act 2008, which states: “‘pedelec’ means a bicycle or tricycle which is equipped with an auxiliary electric motor having a maximum continuous rated power of 0.25 kilowatts, of which output is progressively reduced and finally cut off as the vehicle reaches a speed of 25 kilometres per hour, or sooner if the cyclist stops pedalling.”